Spending your 20’s in Ketchum, Idaho can look a lot of different ways. Many people dedicate themselves to ski-bum life, working at restaurants at night and crushing the pow all day. Some are dipping their toes into different types of jobs, trying to find what sticks. For Ketchum-native Courtney Hamilton, she still probably falls into the second category, but that hasn’t stopped her from wanting to make a difference in the community she’ll always call home. A city council woman, board member of the Ketchum Innovation Center, and board member of Sun Valley Economic Development, Hamilton has also worked for Sun Valley Trekking, as an Adventure Town Ambassador to Clif Bar, TEDxSunValley, home energy auditing, has lead outdoor trips for the Community School and is now the Projects Coordinator for Carson International.
“I’m just your typical mountain town person, trying to find my way.”
Hamilton grew up in Ketchum and after graduating from Community School headed to the west coast to attend college at Pomona College in Claremont, California where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy Analysis. Like many other kids who grow up in Ketchum, she felt that pull to go to big cities where the opportunities are. “After college I worked on a winery for a while and traveled the world and saw a bunch of places but I decided I didn’t like any as much as I liked Sun Valley,” explains Hamilton. “I also realized that I love the feeling of a mountain town community. Having grown up here and the connections I have, I realized that you can actually get a lot bigger head start on a career when you’re from here and know the area and the people and businesses to talk to and mentor you.”
Hamilton’s first job when she moved back was with Yellowfin, a business intelligence reporting company with locations around the world and in Ketchum. But Hamilton quickly realized that, though the company is physically located in Ketchum, it had no connections to the place that she so loved. “While it was here and let me live my Ketchum lifestyle, there was no connection to here,” Hamilton explains. “It’s a global company and I started to realized that I love this place so much that I wanted to be more connected to it.” Hamilton vowed to only work for town-based jobs and began picking up jobs offered to her by the people she knew. “I was doing home energy auditing and office management for Sun Valley Trekking, I helped Rebecca Rusch for a bit, got TEDxSunValley off the ground, I led a lot of Community School trips,” Hamilton says, listing off some of her many town-focused jobs over the years.
One of her more interesting stints was as Adventure Town Ambassador to Clif Bar (yes, that’s a real title), a program Clif created to have one adventure town per region and a person in that town to use as a connection to locals. Surprisingly, Clif was having a hard time filling the job in Ketchum but Hamilton applied and got the job…along with a ton of Clif Bars. “Clif is a very value-driven company; I worked to promote Clif’s values in a small town which they don’t get to connect with very often in their marketing. But in a lot of ways, small towns like Ketchum are their most loyal and value-driven customers.” That was a two-year stint which has sadly (for the recipients of many free Clif Bars) ended. But another stint has taken its place, one with a much greater opportunity for impact: city council.
After someone suggested Hamilton run, she toyed with the idea right up until the week before petitions were due. An elected official ended up telling her she should run and, after discussing it over coffee, the official asked Hamilton, “What do you have to lose?” “I thought, ‘You’re right, nothing to lose.’ So I submitted my name and the more research I did, the more I realized that I actually was very qualified and that they needed someone like me: I grew up here and I’m a young person,” says Hamilton. Indeed, she is the youngest person to ever sit on Ketchum’s City Council with the next youngest being almost 20 years older than her. “It just became clear that, while there are so many amazing organizations working toward the betterment of our community, they’re missing the perspective of a huge community. Not only are young people in our town not being heard, they’re the future. You have to engage them. Our town can’t survive unless young people start taking leadership and moving our town into the future.”
The importance of getting young people involved in Ketchum can’t be overstated. In the early ‘90s, the average age in Ketchum was 39 and now the average age is 52. “That’s terrifying,” says Hamilton. “It’s not something most people think about, but it has quickly become the only thing I think about. You start to realize that we have restaurants closing because they can’t hire staff and there’s all these amazing job opportunities for leadership in our community that aren’t being filled. We’re not going to be able to have good restaurants and teachers and insurance companies and all the important things it takes to have a community if young people don’t figure out what it takes to live and thrive here.”
Hamilton takes on the responsibility of representing young adults in town, bringing her voice and perspective to City Council meetings where she talks about the issues important to her like housing, the economy, sustainability, and maintaining Ketchum’s culture. “I look at all of those things through the lens of promoting a future generation of leaders in our town”